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Everything We Do

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Today’s Bible reading: 2 Kings 17-18:12; Acts 20:1-38; Psalm 148:1-14; Proverbs 18:6-7

God’s original plan was for Israel to be the nation that others looked to for guidance. But by 2 Kings 17, Israel is instead a vassal state, paying tribute (money) to Assyria in exchange for security. God’s intention for his people, even today, is not for us to be enslaved to sin. God wants to set us free. But our refusal to recognize Him and obey Him keeps us in bondage on an individual level.

On a national level, we can expect exactly what happens to Israel, which comprised the 10 northern tribes. God allowed them to be conquered because of their sin and worshipping of other gods rather than the true God who had done so much for them (2 Kings 17:5-6).

Its not like Israel had no warning. God had sent prophet after prophet to warn them but they would not listen (2 Kings 17:13-14). We’ll read the writings of prophets in a couple of months.

Instead the people rejected God’s commands, “despised” His warnings, and worshipped worthless things. I can’t help but see the parallels between Israel and the United States. God did so much for us and blessed us with so much. But we have rejected Him, openly despised and renounced Him, and spend our time and money on empty things. I can’t help but conclude that our fate will be the same as Israel’s.

It takes a lot to make God angry. We’ve seen this year that He is very patient and gives people time to repent and return to Him. But eventually He decides that people aren’t going to do that, so He ups the ante and removes them from His presence (2 Kings 17:18). This is also the exact definition of hell – a place where God is not present. If people think things on earth are bad, when God keeps us from getting out of control, I can’t imagine how bad hell will be.

In 2 Kings 18 we meet Hezekiah, one of the best kings Judah ever had (2 Kings 18:5). Notice that since Hezekiah was faithful and obedient God blessed him in everything he did (2 Kings 18:6-7). That is how it works. If we want God’s blessing, we need to do what He says.

One of the idols that Hezekiah destroyed was the bronze serpent Moses had made in Numbers 21 to protect the people from a plague. The serpent was a good thing that God commanded Moses to make. But it had become an idol over time. So it had to be destroyed. Not everything in our life is inherently bad. But when it replaces God in our lives – as has money, sex, celebrity, and fame – it becomes evil because it draws us away from God.

Paul’s third missionary journey continues in Acts 20 where he speaks to the elders of the church at Ephesus reminding them of his own personal character (Acts 20:19) and the single-mindedness of his message – repentance of sin and faith in God (Acts 20:21).

The more I read the book of Acts the more I see that the message God is asking me to deliver to people in my circle of influence is very simple. I don’t need to get bogged down in peripheral arguments such as evolution vs. creation or the age of the earth. The issue is that people need to repent (from the Greek for “to agree with”) and turn to God for the forgiveness of their sins.

Paul knows that his future is bleak (Acts 20:23) but he isn’t going to cling to his life. Doing so is pointless. The only value his life has is to tell others about God’s grace and the salvation He offers through Jesus Christ (Acts 20:24). What a great way to view one’s life. Everything we do on this earth matters not, except that it teaches others about Jesus (1 Corinthians 3:15).

In Acts 20:25-35 we see the point of Paul’s speech and why he asked these elders to travel 36 miles to meet him. He knows that he will never see them again and he now encourages them to take care of the people in their church and be on the lookout for those who do will try to deceive.

There is probably a lot going on in nature that we, as human beings, do not know about such as the entire universe, including the sun and moon, praising Him (Psalms 148:1-5). There is infra-red light and ultra-violet light that we cannot see. There are sound frequencies we cannot hear. So there is no reason that every created thing can’t be praising God without us realizing it.

Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post

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A Great Impact

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Today’s Bible reading: 2 Kings 15-16:20; Acts 19:13-41; Psalm 147:1-20; Proverbs 18:4-5

King Uzziah, who we meet in 2 Kings 15, was a good king except that he did not destroy the pagan shrines. If he did, it would have deterred the people from worshipping false gods (2 Kings 15:3-4). Possibly Uzziah had a divided heart and did not recognize God as the only God. Or maybe he was afraid of the people.

The latter is how many politicians rule today. They do not lead according to God’s word. They decide what will get them the most votes and side with majority (to borrow a 1992 quote from then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton).

Uzziah is followed by two kings who reign very briefly: Zechariah (6 months) and Shallum (2 months). Both of these kings were assassinated showing just how rampant violence and dissatisfaction were in Israel at this time. (Two more assassinations of kings happen later in this chapter as well.)

We need to remember that God allowed these things to happen. God allows people to exercise our inherent evil in order to get our attention so that we turn from sin. Sadly, we tend to find excuses for our sin instead.

The next king, Menahem, pays off the king of Assyria to avoid being conquered (2 Kings 15:19). This type of “solution” can only keep the enemy at bay temporarily. Sin should be addressed immediately otherwise it will keep returning, as we will see.

After a string of a few kings who were pretty good, Judah gets a very bad king in 2 Kings 16. King Ahaz was more like the kings of Israel even sacrificing his own son to Molech (2 Kings 16:3).

God allows Edom to recover some land in 2 Kings 16:6. Here we see God allowing Israel’s enemies to have victory over them. He also reduces their territory. Similarly, God might take away someone’s wealth or health in order to get them to turn away from sin and towards Him.

King Ahaz submits himself to the king of Assyria in 2 Kings 16:7 rather than trusting in God. When we trust in someone/something other than the Lord we are just inviting trouble into our lives. Only God has our best interests in mind.

Unbelievably Ahaz also redesigns the Temple, removing the design of God in exchange for a pagan design (2 Kings 16:14-18). He did this because he was more dedicated to the king of Assyria than he was to the true God. How often we rearrange our lives to accommodate our sin rather than filling our minds and time with the things of God. Rather than meditating on Scripture, rather than praying, rather than building up someone in Christ we, watch TV or work longer hours, or have sex.

In Acts 19 many people become aware of their own sin. The give up their demonic-related possessions and practices in exchange for the word of God (Acts 19:20). This is just the opposite of what we saw in 2 Kings today and is exactly what God is asking us to do.

However, this caused much anger in Ephesus as businessmen who made a living selling idols to Artemis realize that they will lose income (Acts 19:25). This is really a great testimony to the work that Paul and his associates were doing. Their teaching had a great effect. But these men were not interested the eternal destiny of the people. They were interested in their own short-term wealth.

How true is that today with organizations such as Planned Parenthood which make their living killing unborn babies. People put many things before God that they do not want to give up: money, sex, pornography, status, alcohol, drugs. They reject the message of God because they are more interested in their own addictions or material comfort than they are in the things of God.
But the lesson here is clear: teaching people about Jesus – even the most hardened non-believer, can have a great impact on an entire society. That comes not from us, but from the power of God. We are simply the messengers.

Isn’t it cool that God knows how many stars there are and has a name for each one (Psalm 147:4)? God is not impressed with our wisdom or physical strength – compared to Him we are nothing (Psalm 147:10). Instead, God is impressed with people who put their hope in Him rather than the false-hope offered by things of this world.

Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post

The Primary Message

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Today’s Bible reading: 2 Kings 13-14:29; Acts 18:23-19:12; Psalm 146:1-10; Proverbs 18:2-3

King Johoahaz was a bad king and during his reign God allowed Aram (modern-day Syria) to defeat Israel (2 Kings 13:2). Then Johoahaz prayed to God for help. The Hebrew text implies that he was the end of this rope; he was utterly defeated. Sometimes it takes a lot to bring us to the place where we will turn from our sin and back to the Lord.

God answered the prayer, but the sin did not stop (2 Kings 13:5-6). Because of this lack of relationship with God they became weak (2 Kings 13:7). Fellowship with God is like food for the body. Without it we will lose our strength.

Even great men of God will die, and in 2 Kings 13:2o Elisha dies. Just prior to his death he is visited by King Jehoash of Israel. King Jehoash was not a particularly godly man, but he recognized Elisha as having a strong relationship with God. Christians should live their lives in such a way that even the non believers around us will see God’s presence.

Amaziah becomes king of Judah in 2 Kings 14. He was a good king, but not as good as David (2 Kings 14:3). Amaziah wins a relatively small victory over Edom (2 Kings 14:7) and lets that victory go to his head. He thinks he can defeat the much larger army of Israel (2 Kings 14:8). I think after we have a victory over sin we can get a bit overconfident and decide we can take on larger enemies. That is not necessarily true. We need to listen to God and walk with Him. It is His goal for us to grow stronger, but only He knows what we are capable of and what our next assignment should be.

Amaziah is soundly defeated by Israel which undermines his credibility (2 Kings 14:11-14, 19) which leads to his death. If he had only been more humble and had listened to God’s instruction rather than acting on his own this would not have happened.

We briefly meet Jonah today (2 Kings 14:25). This is the same man God will send to Nineveh. We’ll read that great story later this year. But here we learn that Jonah had a ministry in Israel prior to that experience.

Paul begins his third missionary journey in Acts 18:23 after spending some time in Antioch, resting after his second mission. But even while there Paul was working for the Lord by ministering to believers.

Priscilla and Aquila (notice that her name is again listed first) help a well-meaning Jew, Apollos, learn more about Jesus in Acts 18:26. Apollos knew some things, but not everything. When we see another believer who is very interested in God’s word but who may be lacking a bit of knowledge, we should help him/her. Likewise, we need to be open to being taught by other believers who know more than we do.

With his knew understanding Apollos not only debated Jews, but refuted them with powerful arguments from the Scriptures (Acts 18:28). This is exactly how it should be done. We should not focus on secondary issues – like creation vs. evolution. We should focus on the primary message – salvation through Jesus.

In Acts 19:1-7 we learn that no one is a true believer in Jesus without having the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, who is God living inside a person, is the evidence that someone has been truly saved. The people had seemingly repented and were baptized (Acts 19:6). But they had to be changed not only on the outside, but on the inside as well.

While in Ephesus Paul held daily teachings. This went on for 2 years (Acts 19:9-10). Paul was unbelievably dedicated. He gave up a lot of his life so that others would hear God’s word. I can’t imagine what it means to be that dedicated to God.

No one, no matter how powerful can truly help us. They are mortals just like us who don’t have the answers  (Psalm 146:3-4). Relying on God is the solution (Psalm 146:5). He will open the eyes of the blind and lift up those who are heavily burdened (Psalm 146:8).

Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post

The Hard Part

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Today’s Bible reading: 2 Kings 10:32-12:21; Acts 18:1-22; Psalm 145:1-21; Proverbs 18:1

When Israel entered the Promised Land 600 year earlier, they also had some land east of the Jordan River. In 2 Kings 10:32-33 God takes that land away from Israel due to their sin. I wonder if God will allow the same thing to happen to the United States.

God can, and often does, use the evil of men (and women) to further His goals. When Athaliah attempts to wipe out the line of David, God uses this evil to hide and protect Joash (2 Kings 11:2) who will go on to be king.

Jehoiada plans to reveal Joash on a Sabbath. On this day the guards were changed so he could have two groups of guards on duty at the same time without arousing suspicion (2 Kings 11:5-9). Very smart.

Athaliah was a tyrannical ruler as evidenced by the people’s exuberant response to the presenting of Joash (2 Kings 11:14). So often we live under sin for so long without realizing that a legitimate alternative exists. Once we are free from that sin we can do nothing but rejoice. This is exactly what Jesus wants to do to us. He is the Truth. And the Truth will set us free.

The people are so pumped about having an heir of David on the throne that they tear down another temple of Baal (2 Kings 11:18). After a victory over sin aren’t we always on fire for God? The real test comes after our emotions settle down. Keeping ourselves from sin and committed to God for the long term is the hard part.

Joash becomes king of Judah in 2 Kings 12:2 and did a pretty good job because Jehoiada, the priest, instructed him. This indicates that Joash was open to learning, something we have been encouraged to be this year in Proverbs. Even so, Joash didn’t do all that he could have (2 Kings 12:3).

Joash starts a project to rebuild the Temple (2 Kings 12:4). But sadly the money that was collected was not put to proper use, apparently because the priests, who already had enough to do, were put in charge of the reparations (2 Kings 12:7-8). Here we see that all of us need to get involved. Our pastors cannot do everything. Their role is to teach us. The congregation needs to be responsible for other areas.

I have been in several churches where major expansions were taking place (including my current church). Each time the congregation is asked to donate above and beyond their regular giving to support the effort so nothing is taken away from the current programs. This is exactly what God is teaching us in 2 Kings 12:16.

Unfortunately, Joash does not end his reign on a positive note. When confronted by the enemy he gives in much too easily and gives up all he and previous kings had worked so hard for (2 Kings 12:18). We do the same thing when confronted by Satan. We give in to sin and suffer defeat easily and quickly. But God is always on our side, ready to help us fight if we just give Him the opportunity to do so.

In Acts 18 we read about Paul’s time in Corinth. It was to the church he planted here that he wrote the two letters we will read in a few weeks. Corinth was a major city in southern Greece known for its sexual immorality. It was a major trading cross-roads through which many people traveled and so it was a perfect place to start a church from which the message of Jesus Christ could be spread all over the earth.

In Acts 18:3 we learn that Paul was a tentmaker. Paul supported himself with an avocation and did not rely on anyone else to fund his personal expenses. Any money he collected went towards his missionary work. That is a great model for us to follow.

Paul has some success in Corinth (Acts 18:8) despite some opposition (Acts 18:6). Jesus speaks to him and tells him “Don’t be afraid!” (Acts 18:9). Jesus would not have said this if Paul was not afraid. Jesus always knows exactly what we are feeling. Jesus also encourages Paul to “speak out” and not to be silent. This is the exact same encouragement Jesus is giving every one of His followers today. We need to tell others about Jesus. We should not keep quiet. Paul is so encouraged that he stays in Corinth for a year and a half (Acts 18:11).

On the way home, Paul stops in Ephesus, to whom he wrote the letter to the Ephesians (Acts 18:19) leaving behind his good friends Priscilla and Aquila who were apparent converts in Corinth. Its very unusual for a wife’s name to mentioned before her husband’s in ancient writings. We can conclude that Priscilla was a very well respected woman – more evidence that the Bible does not look down upon women.

Psalm 145 reminds us of the many great qualities of God. He is merciful and compassionate, slow to anger, and filled with love (Psalm 145:8). He always keeps His promises (something we have seen in our Old Testament readings all year), gracious, and willing to lift up those who have fallen (Psalms 145:13-14). This is exactly how we should think of God. We should not think of Him as being against us or looking for a reason to hurt us.

Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post

Certainly Not Mainstream

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Today’s Bible reading: 2 Kings 9:14-10:31; Acts 17:1-34; Psalm 144:1-15; Proverbs 17:27-28

God had vowed to avenge the murders of His prophets by Jezebel. In today’s reading God accomplishes this through Jehu who first kills Joram, the son of Ahab and Jezebel (2 Kings 9:24).

Joram died on the plot of land that Jezebel had wickedly obtained from Naboth (2 Kings 9:25) fulfilling the prophecy that God would repay Ahab on that very plot of land. Notice that Jehu is doing just what God told him to do (2 Kings 9:26). Sometimes what God asks us to do isn’t pleasant. But we should do it anyway out of obedience and reverence for Him.

Jehu also kills Ahaziah who was Ahab’s grandson (2 Kings 9:27). The wicked Jezebel is killed also in the exact manner God had predicted (2 Kings 9:33-35).

Notice that several times in this passage in 2 Kings 9 that someone asks Jehu if he comes in peace. Each time his answer is the same. There can be no peace as long as we allow sin to rule our lives. We must rid our lives of sin to the extent possible and replace it with the presence of God. Then we will have peace.

In this culture the desecration of a dead body was worse than death itself. God not only took Jezebel’s life, He allowed her body to be treated in the worst way possible bringing even more shame on her legacy.

In 2 Kings 10:1-31 Jehu kills more of Ahab’s family, again in accordance with God’s command. God did not kill these people for no reason. They were evil. They would have spread their evilness throughout Judah and Israel. God’s purpose in taking their lives was to protect the rest of Israel from future ungodly leadership. Ahab was the most evil king Israel ever saw. His offspring would have been at least as bad. So God left him without any survivors (2 Kings 10:11) just as He said He would.

Here we see that our physical lives are not as important as we might think they are. God is less interested in us living a long life on this earth than He is in having us live a strong spiritual life and being with Him in heaven.

Jehu destroys the temple to Baal in 2 Kings 10:20-27 and converted it to a public toilet. There could be no greater dishonor to a false god.

It appears that Jehu was a king who was right with God. And although God does commend him for all he did (2 Kings 10:30) Jehu did not follow God with all his heart (2 Kings 10:31). Apparently Jehu did these things for his own glory. Many people have a head-knowledge of God and expect to be rewarded for doing certain things. But this is not true. God wants our hearts, not our heads, to be completely devoted to Him.

Biblical prophecy, especially the Old Testament, can be a strong witness in leading people to Christ as we see in Acts 17:3. The Bible contains many specific prophecies about Jesus (and other topics). Fulfilled prophecy is one of the best pieces of evidence to prove the existence of God.

God calls on Christians to impact the world. This is exactly what Paul and Silas did in Thessalonica – they “upset the world” (Acts 17:6). We are not here to enjoy the world. God wants us to change the world.

Its interesting that the accusers understand that Jesus was a king (Acts 17:7). Not enough Christians today understand this.

The behavior of the Bereans in Acts 17:11 is a good example to follow. They were open minded and didn’t just believe what they heard. They researched it to see if it was true. Non believers are well-advised to do the same today.

Paul is willing to preach anywhere. He preaches in both the synagogue and in the marketplace (Acts 17:17). God should not be constrained to just a church on Sunday. He wants us to tell people about Him wherever we are.

The story of salvation through Jesus Christ is certainly not mainstream – it is not how most people expect to get to heaven. Yet it is true. That is why people need to hear it. The novelty of the message often piques an interest (Acts 17:20).

In Athens some people laughed at Paul but others showed an interest (Acts 17:32). Not everyone will receive the gospel message seriously. That should not discourage us. Their attitude is between them and God. Some people will believe (Acts 17:34). But that too is the work of God.

No matter how troublesome life gets at times, God is our protection (Psalm 144:2). He always loves us and provides for us, even though we are nothing compared to Him (Psalm 144:3).

Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post

Less-Than-Ideal Situations

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Today’s Bible reading: 2 Kings 8-9:13; Acts 16:16-40; Psalm 143:1-12; Proverbs 17:26

Back in 2 Kings 4 Elisha helps a woman by bringing her son back to life. This was just before a great famine hit the land. Today we find out that Elisha gave this woman some inside information that the famine was going to happen (2 Kings 8:1-2). Upon returning home after the famine ended she was given back all she possessed at the time she left (2 Kings 8:6). Here we see the government of Israel, which was not exactly godly, not penalizing this woman for obeying God. Can you imagine a government like that in the United States – where people are commended for obeying God? Neither can I.

While Paul was in Macedonia he is followed by a demon-possessed girl who earned a lot of money for her masters (Acts 16:16). Even though she shouts the truth about Paul and his partners (Acts 16:17) Paul orders the demon to come out of her (Acts 16:18). Jesus did the same thing – He silenced demons even though they spoke the truth about Him. We are known by the company we keep. And even though this girl was speaking truth she was a well known fortune-teller who was not committed to God. Paul didn’t need the testimony of such a person, even if she spoke the truth.

When Jesus ordered demons out of a person He did so on His own authority. Paul does not cast the demon out of this girl on his own. He does so “in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 16:18).

The girl’s masters saw that their money making scheme was now over and so they sieze Paul and Silas (Acts 16:19). The main accusation against them is that they are “Jews” and were teaching the people things that went against Roman law. In response to these charges the people whip Paul and Silas and throw them into prison, not realizing that Paul, while Jewish, was a Roman citizen. Here we see an example of mob-mentality where the facts are not allowed to get in the way.

If I were in jail I wonder if I would be as confident as Paul and Silas. I doubt I would be able to pray and sing to God as they did (Acts 16:25). But certainly even people in prison, including the guards, need to hear about Jesus and God would want us to witness while there.

God miraculously frees Paul and Silas from prison through an earthquake (Acts 16:26). In the process one of the guards believes and is saved and also baptized (Acts 16:30, 33). God is always able to turn a difficult situation into one that glorifies Him. Therefore when we find ourselves in less-than-ideal situations, we need to keep focused on Him and look for an opportunity to serve. We can be certain there will be such an opportunity.

A great prayer to pray is to ask God to teach us to do His will (Psalm 143:10). God’s will is “good, pleasing, and perfect” (Romans 12:2). When we do His will our lives will be so much better.

Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post

An Open Heart

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Today’s Bible reading: 2 Kings 6-7:20; Acts 15:36-16:15; Psalm 142:1-7; Proverbs 17:24-25 

In 2 Kings 6:5 a man who loses the head of his axe. This may seem like a small issue, but that is the point. God isn’t only interested in the “big” problems in our lives, but the small ones too. He cares about us. He even cares when we misplace or lose our possessions.

Even though Israel had fallen into deep sin, God protected them as we see in 2 Kings 6:9-10. God is patient (the Bible calls Him “forbearing”). Israel had turned to other gods long ago, but God is still waiting for them to turn back to Him. Its amazing to read these Old Testament stories and see just how incredibly patient God is with us and how good He is to us when we are far from deserving.

When the Arameans besiege Samaria things get so bad the people resort to cannibalism (2 Kings 6:28-29). But rather than realize that it was his own sin and the sin of the people that brought these problems, the king blames Elisha, the one who was truly following God (2 Kings 6:31). Sound familiar? This is exactly how Christians are looked at in the United States. We get blamed for the emotional problems of homosexuals (because we don’t accept them) or traumatic pregnancies (since we oppose abortion). The real problem is sin. The real problem is we, as a nation, aren’t following God.

I found it interesting that God used the outcasts of society, lepers, to bring the good news of the retreat of the Aramean army in 2 Kings 7. God does look to bless those that society rejects. In this passage God allows the lepers to plunder the Aramean camp first, taking some of the best spoils for themselves (2 Kings 6:8-9).

Notice that the lepers can’t keep this good news to themselves (2 Kings 6:9). That is just how it is with the good news of Jesus Christ – it was meant to be shared.

Another interesting thing is why the Arameans fled. Notice that God “caused” them to hear the sound of a great army (2 Kings 6:6). God’s victories are always pretty cool. The defeated Jericho by having the Israelites march around it and shout. And He will defeat the forces that attack Israel at the war of Gog and Magog by confusing them into killing each other (Ezekiel 38:21).

In 2 Kings 7:12 we see a typical reaction a non believer has to the work of God: the attribute it to something else. Rather than believe in God, non believers look at miraculous situations or answers to prayer and continue to not believe. This is one reason why Jesus told us that even if someone came back from the dead, a living non believer would still not believe (Luke 16:19-31).

Even believers will not always agree with each other as we see in Acts 15:36-41. Paul and Barnabas sharply disagreed on the role John Mark should play in their ministry. This caused them to split. Who was right and who was wrong we don’t know. But we do know that God used this human situation to reach more people with the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Today we meet Timothy (Acts 16:1). Timothy was a strong believer in Lystra, a town where Paul was stoned previously. Paul was so impressed with Timothy that he asks him to join him. No one is irreplaceable in the work of God. Barnabas was no longer around, so God provided Timothy to Paul.

Paul wanted to go to Asia (modern-day Turkey) but was prevented by the Holy Spirit (Acts 16:6). So he decides to go to Bithynia (also modern-day Turkey) but is again prevented (Acts 16:7). We don’t know how God prevented Paul from going – it could have been an internal conviction or circumstances. But we see why God did this – He wanted Paul to go to Macedonia (Acts 16:9). God doesn’t only open doors He wants us to go through… He closes doors He does not want us to go through.

While there Paul meets a woman, Lydia, who accepts what Paul tells her. Notice it was God who opened her heart (Acts 16:14). I think it is important to ask God to open the hearts of the non believers we are trying to reach. For without an open heart it is impossible to believe. Notice that the first of Paul’s converts in Europe (he is now in modern-day Greece) was a woman.

Life can be overwhelming. We can have many troubles. Through it all God has the solution (Psalm 142:1-3). There are so many things in life I’d like to have. But really the only thing I need is God (Psalm 142:5).

Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post

Not An Addendum

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Today’s Bible reading: 2 Kings 4:18-5:27; Acts 15:1-35; Psalm 141:1-10; Proverbs 17:23

In 2 Kings 5 we read about a young Jewish girl who was taken captive by the Arameans and was then given to be the maid of the wife of an Aramean army commander. This was certainly a tragic situation for the girl and her parents who probably never saw her again. Yet God, as stated in Romans 8:28, will use this situation to do something great.

It turns out that Naaman, the army commander whose wife the girl was given to, had leprosy. Leprosy was an incurable disease that slowly devastated the body. Upon the suggestion of this girl, and with the blessing of the king of Aram, Naaman goes to the king Israel to get cured of this disease (2 Kings 5:3-4).

When king Joram of Israel reads the letter accompanying Naaman he interprets it as a set up (2 Kings 5:7) rather than turning to God to ask for the man’s healing. The reason the king of Aram sent Naaman to Israel is that he (king of Aram) knew his own gods could not help Naaman. But he seemingly had some faith that the God of Israel could.

But apparently the king of Aram (and the young girl) believed that Joram had a better relationship with God than he did. Joram doesn’t even think of bringing this request to God. We learn here that we cannot judge someone’s spiritual relationship with God based on outward appearances. Just because someone goes to church or volunteers or whatever – that is not reason to conclude that they are right with God.

Naaman initially rejects Elisha’s instructions (2 Kings 5:11). He expected God to work one way. When God didn’t do things as he expected he walked away.

Naaman thought there were better rivers than the Jordan and it was too humbling for him to bath in it, but he overcomes his pride (the whispering of Satan ) and does it anyway and is healed (2 Kings 5:14). God’s instructions to us are often humbling. Our first reaction is to disobey. But if we do we will miss out on His blessings, just like Naaman would not have been cured if he didn’t humble himself and follow God’s instructions.

Jesus is not an additive. When we give our lives to Jesus we are not just adding Him to our already existing beliefs. We are to turn away from our previous belief system and recognize Him as all we need for salvation. This is what Paul told the believers at Lystra yesterday. And this is what he tells the believers from Judea today.

These men from Judea believed in Jesus but were willing to give up their recognition of the law of Moses. They believed that this law still needed to be kept and that Jesus was just an addendum to it (Acts 15:1). This is not true. Jesus is not an addendum. Jesus is all. We cannot continue to worship other gods (money, sex, fame, or Allah). We cannot continue to rely on our good works to justify us before God. Jesus is it. It is Jesus or nothing.

The law of Moses had no power to save anyone. Its only purpose was to show each of us that we are not good enough to be in God’s presence. There is no way anyone can follow the law 100% of the time and live a perfect life (Acts 15:10). That is why we needed Jesus to save us (Acts 15:11).

When we have questions about how God works what should we do? Should be debate? No, we should do exactly what James (Jesus’ brother) does. He consults the Bible (Acts 15:15). The Bible is our source of truth. Not our own minds or our own traditions.

Its easy to fall into sin. We need to pray daily for the wisdom, courage, and strength to do the right things (Psalm 141:4). We should also seek correction from godly people. Their advice is soothing (Psalm 141:5).

Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post

We Need To Go First

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Today’s Bible reading: 2 Kings 3-4:17; Acts 14:8-28; Psalm 140:1-13; Proverbs 17:22

The new king of Israel, Joram, son of Ahab and Jezebel, joins forces with Jehoshaphat king of Judah. Joram was not a godly man (2 Kings 3:2), although he was better than his parents. But that isn’t saying much.

Joram has no faith in God at all as we see in 2 Kings 3:10. There was no water for their soldiers or there animals and Joram’s reaction is to conclude that God is against them. This is not a godly attitude.

On the other hand, Jehoshaphat, who was a godly king, displays the right attitude by seeking out God’s will (2 Kings 3:11). God is always with us. And even when we are not walking closely with him He is ready and willing to guide us. In fact, a difficult situation is a perfect time to seek God and get closer to Him.

Elisha isn’t too crazy about meeting with Joram, but out of respect for the godly Jehoshaphat, he agrees (2 Kings 3:14). God will not bless mockers and cynics. But He is more than willing to meet with those whose hearts are truly seeking Him.

I think Elisha was quite disturbed at the arrival at these kings and needs something to set his spirit right before he advises them. So he asks for some music (2 Kings 3:15). This shows us the power of music and how it can get our minds focused on God before we come to him in prayer or to learn (as in church). Of course, the music needs to be God-centered. If it is, it can prepare our hearts to meet with God.

God promises to provide water but in a miraculous manner – without rain (2 Kings 3:16). But the people must dig trenches to trap the water and they must do this before God supplies the water. God did what He could do -provide water. The people did what they could do – dig the trenches. God always lets us participate in what He is doing. Almost always we need to go first – to demonstrate our faith in Him.

The next day God provided so much water that it was everywhere (2 Kings 3:20). This was a blessing. The amount of blessing that the people would experience was directly proportional to the amount of work they did to receive the blessing. The more trenches and the larger the trenches they dug, the more water (blessing) they would receive. So often God is willing to bless us but we aren’t ready to receive it. So His blessing passes us by, just like this water would have passed these people by if they had not dug the trenches. It was hard work, but well worth it.

Back in 1975 there was this movie called The Man Who Would Be King staring Sean Connery and Michael Caine. In it two British officers are mistaken for gods by a local people. Rather than tell the people the truth the men play along for selfish reasons. Eventually their decision turns deadly. If you have not seen this movie I highly recommend it. It is a great commentary on human nature.

We see something similar in Acts 14:11-13 where the people of Lystra believe that Paul and Barnabas are the Greek gods Hermes and Zeus in human form. It was a common belief that gods came to earth as humans back then. But rather than taking advantage of the people for personal gain, as the men did in the movie, Paul and Barnabas tell them the truth – they (Paul and Barnaba) are human beings just like they are.

Paul and Barnabas tell the people very directly that their gods are useless and should be abandoned (2 Kings 14:15). But try as they might, the people did not believe. Some people are so set in their beliefs that hearing the truth will have no affect on them. All we can do is explain to them who God is and let them make their decisions. We can simply plant seeds. Only God can make faith grow.

Sometimes the persecution that one Christian goes through for Christ can be a great encouragement to others. Such is the case when Paul is stoned and left for dead (2 Kings 14:19-20). Despite this Paul strengthened believers and encouraged them but also reminded them of the suffering that they might go through (2 Kings 14:21-22).

Upon return to Antioch – the church that sent them out to evangelize – Paul and Barnabas report everything that happened to them (2 Kings 14:27). God has appointed some people to be “goers” and some people to be “senders”. I think it is important for the goers to let the senders now the results of their efforts. This encourages the senders to continue to send others out to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ.

There are many places in the Psalms where the psalmist prays for the destruction of those who are enemies of God and His people. Psalm 140 contains such verses (Psalm 140:9-11). I realize this is biblical but I find myself torn between praying for those I know hate God. Sometimes I want to pray that God change their hearts. Sometimes I want to ask God to destroy them.

Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post

Lies That Make Us Feel Good

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Today’s Bible reading: 2 Kings 1-2:25; Acts 13:42-14:7; Psalm 139:1-24; Proverbs 17:19-21

When Azahiah falls and is seriously injured he doesn’t seek help from God. Instead he seeks help from a false-god, Baal-zebub, from which we get another name for Satan: Beelzebub (2 Kings 1:2). When people are in trouble they turn to something/someone they think can help them. Maybe alcohol. Maybe a fellow human-being. Maybe drugs. Maybe spiritual meditation. But the only thing that can truly help us in our times of need is God.

Even though Azahiah did not ask God, God – out of His mercy – actually sends Azahiah an answer anyway. Through Elijah He tells Azahiah that his condition is fatal (2 Kings 1:4). This is actually a blessing from God – very few people know when they are going to die. God gave Azahiah time to repent.

Unfortunately, Azahiah does not repent and instead arrests Elijah (2 Kings 1:9). As we’ve been learning recently, people don’t like what God has to say. God speaks truth in love and has the power to heal our broken lives. But people don’t want to know the truth about themselves. We’d rather believe lies that make us feel good. We aren’t the most intelligent creatures, are we?

Notice that Azahiah calls Elijah “Man of God” (2 Kings 1:9, 11, 13). Azahiah knew that God existed. But he also believed Baal-zebub existed. He thought he could pick and choose his own truth from many existing truths. The world operates the same way today. People believe there are many paths to heaven and they can pick the one that is most pleasing to them. But this is not true. God made a way to heaven when there was none. That way – the one and only way – is through Jesus Christ.

Elijah is famously taken up to heaven in 2 Kings 2:11-12. Elijah never died. For this reason many believe that he will be one of the two witnesses during the Tribulation (Revelation 11:3).

Elisha takes over for Elijah and immediately is tested when some young men make fun of his baldness (2 Kings 2:23). Elisha did not become despondent and depressed as Elijah had. Instead he calls on the name of God to take care of these mockers who were rejecting him and, therefore, God.

I wish there was as much excitement to hear God’s word today as there was in Acts 13:42 where the people loved Paul and Barnabas’ sermon so much they wanted to hear it again. Whatever these men said it had a tremendous impact as many devout Jews believed.

Notice too that this is the first time Paul’s name is placed before Barnabas. Up until now when these men worked together Barnabas’ name came first because he was mentoring Paul. But now Paul has matured spiritually and is taking the lead in their relationship as well as in his availability for God.

The Jewish leaders become jealous of Paul’s following so they tell lies about him and argue with everything he says (Acts 13:45). I’ve been there. There will always be people who love themselves and hate God so much that they will lie – which is a sin. But these are the same people who refuse to see themselves as sinners.

These leaders were also apparently unhappy that Gentiles and Jews were mixing (Acts 13:46). Despite being religious leaders they knew nothing about what the Bible said about salvation being for everyone, not just the Jews (Acts 13:47). The same thing happens today with people who think they know God but have never even opened a Bible. God loves these people, but their opinions on God are meaningless.

Paul and Barnabas then travel to Iconium where many Jews and Greeks believe (Acts 14:1). But with success come opposition and some Jews, who rejected God’s message, intentionally persuade others not to believe (Acts 14:2). This behavior, which we still see today, amazes me. People who do not believe in God want others to not believe in God either and very often go out of their way to stop other from believing. When I was an atheist I did the very same thing and began to ask myself why. The answer is that this is a tactic from Satan.

Satan convinces unbelievers to preempt others from believing too. But if you think about it, there is no reason to do this. Why should an atheist stop someone from believing something they (the atheist) does not think is true to begin with? What harm would there be if the person did believe? None. The only reason Satan would want people to not believe is because the object of the belief is, in fact, true.

Nevertheless, Paul and Barnabas stay in Iconium for a long time, preaching boldly about God’s grace (Acts 14:3). God gave them the power to do miracles to prove what they were saying is true. How cool would that be?

Paul and Barnabas continue to preach the truth until it becomes unsafe for them to do so (Acts 14:5-6). God wants us to persevere. We shouldn’t quit at the first sign of trouble when it comes to witnessing to others. God will send us a sign when it is time to move on. In this case the sign was the death sentence handed down by the those who were unwilling to believe.

God knows everything about you, even more than you know (Psalm 139:1). As such He can point out anything in us that needs correction (Psalm 139:23-24). This is a prayer we should all pray. We don’t enjoy hearing about the bad things in us (which are many). But God reveals them to us out of love – so we can enjoy a stronger relationship with Him.

Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post

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